California restaurant fined after using fake priest to get workers to confess ‘sins’

A California restaurant has been ordered to pay $140,000 in back wages and damages to 35 employees after the business hired a person they said was a priest to get workers to confess to “workplace sins.”

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According to a news release from the U.S. Department of Labor, an employee of Che Garibaldi Inc., the owner of three Taqueria Garibaldi restaurants in Northern California, testified that the business offered employees a person identified as a priest to hear confessions during work hours. The employee told the court that the priest urged workers to “get the sins out,” the release stated.

The employee stated that the priest asked employees if they had stolen from the restaurant, were late for work, had done anything to harm their employer or if they had “bad intentions” toward their employer.

“Our own investigation found no evidence of any connection between the Diocese of Sacramento and the alleged priest in this matter,” Bryan J. Visitacion, director of media and communications for the Diocese of Sacramento, told Catholic News Agency on Friday. “While we don’t know who the person in question was, we are completely confident he was not a priest of the Diocese of Sacramento.”

Che Garibaldi operates two Taqueria Garibaldi restaurants in Sacramento and one in Roseville, CBS News reported.

One of the Taqueria Garibaldi restaurants in Sacramento was already under investigation by the Wage and Hour Department when its owner, Eduardo Hernandez, allegedly offered the services of the person described as a priest to employees in November 2021, the Los Angeles Times reported. The service was offered only for the restaurant’s Catholic workers.

“I found the conversation to be strange and unlike normal confessions,” Maria Parra, who worked as a server at Taqueria Garibaldi, said in a sworn declaration. “He asked if I ever got pulled over for speeding, if I drank alcohol, or if I had stolen anything. The priest mostly had work-related questions, which I thought was strange. The priest asked if I had stolen anything at work, if I was late to my employment, if I did anything to harm my employer, and if I had any intention towards my employment.”

Raquel Alfaro, a Labor Department investigator, testified that “multiple employees” told her they took part in confessions with the man, The New York Times reported. They added that they found the experience “odd” because the priest “was asking questions regarding their loyalty to the employer and to the business.”

The federal investigation also revealed that the businesses withheld overtime pay and tips, and discovered cases of retaliation when workers complained, KCRA-TV reported. The Labor Department stated that the company threatened “adverse immigration consequences” to employees cooperating with the federal agency, and fired one worker they believed had complained to the department.

According to the Department of Labor news release, Che Garibaldi Inc. agreed to a consent judgment, and Judge William B. Shubb in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California ordered the company and its owners --- Eduardo Hernandez, Hector Manuel Martinez Galindo and Alejandro Rodriguez -- to pay the fine.

“Under oath, an employee of Taqueria Garibaldi explained how the restaurant offered a supposed priest to hear their workplace ‘sins’ while other employees reported that a manager falsely claimed that immigration issues would be raised by the department’s investigation,” Marc Piloton, the Department of Labor’s regional solicitor, said in a statement. “This employer’s despicable attempts to retaliate against employees were intended to silence workers, obstruct an investigation and prevent the recovery of unpaid wages.”

Attorneys for the restaurant company did not immediately respond to a request for comment, CBS News reported.

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